FAITH AND HOPE.
No faith, no hope. To hope without faith, is to see without eyes, or to expect without grounds; for "faith is the substance of things hoped for," as well with respect to the grace, as to the doctrine of faith.
Faith has its excellency in this, hope in that, and love in another thing. Faith will do that which hope cannot do, hope can do that which faith cannot do, and love can do things distinct from both their doings. Faith goes in the van, hope in the body, and love brings up the rear; and thus now abideth faith, hope, and charity.
Faith is the mother-grace, for hope is born of her, but charity floweth from them both.
Faith comes by hearing, hope by experience. Faith comes by hearing the word of God, hope by the credit that faith has given to it. Faith believes the truth of the word, hope waits for the fulfilling of it. Faith lays hold of that end of the promise that is next to us, to wit, as it is in the Bible; hope lays hold of that end of the promise that is fastened to the mercy-seat. For the promise is like a mighty cable that is fastened by one end to a ship, and by the other to the anchor. The soul is the ship where faith is, and to which the hither end of this cable is fastened; but hope is the anchor that is at the other end of this cable, and "which entereth into that within the veil."
Thus faith and hope getting hold of both ends of the promise, they carry it safely ALL away.
Faith looks to Christ as dead, buried, and ascended; and hope to his second coming. Faith looks to him for justification, hope for glory.
Faith fights for doctrine, hope for a reward; faith for what is in the Bible, hope for what is in heaven.
Faith purifies the heart from bad principles, hope from bad manners. 2 Peter, 3:11, 14.
Faith sets hope at work, hope sets patience at work. Faith says to hope, Look for what is promised; hope says to faith, So I do, and will wait for it too.
Faith looks through the word of God in Christ; hope looks through faith, beyond the world, to glory.
Thus faith saves, and thus hope saves. Faith saves by laying hold of God by Christ; hope saves by prevailing with the soul to suffer all troubles, afflictions, and adversities that it meets with betwixt this and the world to come, for the sake thereof. Take the matter in this plain similitude:
There was a king that adopted such a one to be his child, and clothed him with the attire of the children of the king, and promised him that if he would fight his father's battles and walk in his father's ways, he should at last share in his father's kingdom. He has received the adoption and the king's robe, but not yet his part in the kingdom; but now, hope of a share in that will make him fight the king's battles, and also tread the king's paths. Yea, and though he should meet with many things that have a tendency to deter him from so doing, yet thoughts of the interest promised in the kingdom, and hopes to enjoy it, will make him cut his way through those difficulties, and so save him from the ruin that those obstructions would bring upon him, and will, in conclusion, usher him into a personal possession and enjoyment of that inheritance.
Hope has a thick skin, and will endure many a blow; it will put on patience as a vestment, it will wade through a sea of blood, it will endure all things if it be of the right kind, for the joy that is set before it. Hence patience is called "patience of hope," because it is hope that makes the soul exercise patience and long-suffering under the cross, until the time conies to enjoy the crown.
Learn of Abraham not to faint, stumble, or doubt, at the sight of your own weakness; for if you do, hope will stay below, and creak in the wheels as it goes, because it will want the oil of faith.
Hope is the grace that relieves the soul when dark and weary. Hope calls upon the soul not to forget how far it is arrived in its progress towards heaven. Hope will point and show it the gate afar off; and therefore it is called the HOPE OF SALVATION.
True hope, in the right exercise of it upon God, makes no stumble at weakness or darkness, but rather worketh up the soul to some comfort by these. Thus Abraham's hope wrought by his weakness. And as for the dark, it is its element to act in that, "For hope which is seen is not hope."
Hope is a head-grace and governing. There are several lusts in the soul that cannot be mastered, if hope be not in exercise-especially if the soul be in great and sore trials. There is peevishness and impatience, there is fear and despair, there is doubting and misconstruing of God's present hand; and all these become masters, if hope be not stirring; nor can any grace besides put a stop to their tumultuous raging in the soul. But now, hope in God makes them all hush, takes away the occasion of their working, and lays the soul at the foot of God.
PATIENCE. "And he stayed yet other seven days." This staying shows us that lie exercised patience, waiting God's leisure till the flood should be taken away. This grace, therefore, has yet seven days' work to do, before he obtained any further testimony that the waters were decreasing. O this staying work is hard work. Alas, sometimes patience is accompanied with so much heat and feverishness, that every hour seems seven until the end of the trial, and the blessing promised be possessed by the waiting soul. It may be, Noah might not be altogether herein a stranger. I am sure the psalmist was not, in that he often under affliction cries, But how long, O Lord; for ever? Make haste. O Lord, how long?
Love is the very quintessence of all the graces of the gospel.
It seems to me as if this grace of fear was the darling grace, the grace that God sets his heart upon at the highest rate. As it were, he embraces and lays in his bosom the man that hath and grows strong in this grace of the fear of God.
This grace of fear is the softest and most tender of God's honor of all the graces. It is that tender, sensible, and trembling grace, that keepeth the soul upon its continual watch. To keep a good watch is, you know, a wonderful safety to a place that is in continual danger because of the enemy. Why, this is the grace that setteth the watch, and that keepeth the watchman awake.
A man cannot watch as he should, if he be destitute of fear: let him be confident, and he sleeps; he unadvisedly lets into the garrison those that should not come there.
This fear of the Lord is the pulse of the soul; and as some pulses heat stronger, some weaker, so is this grace of fear in the soul. They that beat best are a sign of best life; but they that beat worst, show that life is present. As long as the pulse beats, we count not that the man is dead, though weak; and this fear, where it is, preserves to everlasting life. Pulses there are also that are intermitting; to wit, such as have their times of beating for a little, a little time to stop, and beat again: true, these are dangerous pulses, which, nevertheless, are a sign of life. This fear of God also is sometimes like this intermitting pulse; there are times when it forbears to work, and then it works again. David had an intermitting pulse; Peter had an intermitting pulse, as also many other of the saints of God. I call that an intermitting pulse, with reference to the fear we speak of, when there is some obstruction by the workings of corruption in the soul: I say, some obstruction from and hinderance of the continual motion of this fear of God; yet none of these—though they are various, and some of them signs of weakness—are signs of death, but life. "I will put my fear in their heart, and they shall not depart from me."
Where the fear of the Lord and sin are, it will be with the soul as it was with Israel when Amri and Tibni strove to reign among them both at once. One of them must be put to death, they cannot live together. Sin must down, for the fear of the Lord begetteth in the soul a hatred against it, an abhorrence of it; therefore sin must die, that is, as to the affections and lusts of it.
"Thy heart shall fear and be enlarged"—enlarged towards God, enlarged to his ways, enlarged to his holy people, enlarged in love after the salvation of others. Indeed, when this fear of God is wanting, though the profession be never so famous, the heart is shut up and straitened, and nothing is done in that princely free spirit, which is called "the spirit of the fear of the Lord," but with grudging, legally, or with desire of vain glory. Psa. 51:12; Isa. 11:2.
If a king will keep a town secure to himself, let him be sure to man sufficiently the main fort thereof. If he have twenty thousand men well armed, if they lie scattered here and there, the town may be taken for all that; but if the main fort be well manned, then the town is more secure. What if a man had all the parts, yea, all the arts of men and angels, that will not keep the heart to God.
But when the heart, this principal fort, is possessed with the fear of God, then he is safe, not else.
O they are a sweet couple, to wit, a Christian conversation coupled with fear.
Your great, ranting, swaggering roysters, that are ignorant of the nature of this fear of God, count it a poor, sneaking, pitiful, cowardly spirit in men to fear and tremble before the Lord. But whoso looks back to jails and gibbets, to the sword and the burning stake, shall see in the martyrs THERE the most mighty and invincible spirit that has been in the world.
This grace of fear can make the man that in many other things is not capable of serving God, serve him better than those that have all else without it. Poor Christian man, thou hast scarce been able to do any thing for God all thy days, but only to fear the Lord. Thou art no preacher, and so canst not do him service that way: thou art no rich man, and so canst not do him service with outward substance: thou art no wise man, and so canst not do any thing that way; but here is thy mercy, thou fearest God. Though thou canst not preach, thou canst fear God. Though thou hast no bread to feed the belly, nor fleece to clothe the back of the poor, thou canst fear God. O how blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, because this duty of fearing of God is an act of the mind, and may be done by the man that is destitute of all things but that holy and blessed mind.
Blessed, therefore, is that man; for God hath not laid the comfort of his people in the doing of external duties, nor the salvation of their souls, but in believing, loving, and fearing God. Neither hath he laid these things in actions done in their health, nor in the due management of their most excellent parts, but in the receiving of Christ, and fear of God; the which, good Christian, thou mayest do, and do acceptably, even though thou shouldst lie bedrid all thy days; thou mayest also be sick and believe, be sick and love, be sick and fear God, and so be a blessed man.
And here the poor Christian hath something to answer them that reproach him for his ignoble pedigree, and shortness of the glory of the wisdom of the world. True, may that man say, I was taken out of the dunghill, I was born in a base and low estate; but I fear God. I have no worldly greatness, nor excellency of natural parts, but I fear God.
When Obadiah met with Elijah, he gave him no worldly and fantastical compliment, nor did he glory in his promotion by Ahab the king of Israel, but gravely and after a gracious manner said, "I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth." Also, when the mariners inquired of Jonah, saying, "What is thine occupation, and whence comest thou; what is thy country, and of what people art thou?" this was the answer he gave them: "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land." Jonah 1:8, 9.
Indeed this answer is the highest and most noble in the world, nor are there any, save a few, that in truth can thus express themselves, though other answers they have enough: most can say, I have wisdom, or might, or riches, or friends, or health, or the like; these are common, and are greatly boasted in by the most; but the man that feareth God can say, when they say to him, "What art thou?" "I thy servant do fear the Lord:" he is the man of many, he is to be honored of men, though this, to wit, that he feareth the Lord, is all that he hath in this world. He hath the thing, the honor, the life, and glory, that is lasting; his blessedness will abide when all men's but his is buried in the dust, in shame and contempt.
Dost thou fear God? The least DRACHM of that fear giveth the privilege to be blessed with the greatest saint: "He will bless them that fear the Lord, small and great." Psalm 115:13. Art thou in thine own thoughts, or in the thoughts of others, of these last small ones, small in grace, small in gifts, small in esteem upon this account? Yet if thou fearest God, if thou fearest God indeed, thou art certainly blessed with the best of saints. The least star stands as fixed as the brightest of them all, in heaven. "He shall bless them that fear him, small and great." He shall bless them, that is, with the same blessing of eternal life. For the difference in degrees of grace in saints doth not make the blessing, as to its nature, differ. It is the same heaven, the same life, the same glory, and the same eternity of felicity, that they are in the text promised to be blessed with. Christ at the day of judgment particularly mentioneth and owneth the least: "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least." The least then was there, in his kingdom and in his glory, as well as the greatest of all.
Dost thou fear God? Why, the Holy Ghost hath on purpose indited for thee a whole psalm to sing concerning thyself. So that thou mayest even as thou art, in thy calling, bed, journey, or whenever, sing out thine own blessed and happy condition to thine own comfort, and the comfort of thy fellows. The psalm is called the 128th Psalm.
"Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; he is their help and their shield." Psalm 115:11. Now what a privilege is this: an exhortation in general to sinners, as sinners, to trust in him, is a privilege great and glorious; but for a man to be singled out from his neighbors, for a man to be spoken to from heaven as it were by name, and to be told that God has given him a license, a special and peculiar grant to trust in him, this is abundantly more; and yet this is the grant that God has given that man that feareth the Lord.
"O fear the Lord, ye his saints, for there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord"—that fear him—"shall want no good thing." Psalm 34:9, 10.
Not any thing that God sees good for them, shall those men want that fear the Lord. If health will do them good, if sickness will do them good, if riches will do them good, if poverty will do them good, if life will do them good, if death will do them good, then they shall not want them; neither shall any of these come nigh them, if they will not do them good.
Sinner, hast thou deferred to fear the Lord? Is thy heart still so stubborn as not to say yet, Let us fear the Lord? O, the Lord hath taken notice of this thy rebellion, and is preparing some dreadful judgments for thee. "Shall I not visit for these things, saith the Lord; shall not my soul be avenged of such a nation as this?"
Sinner, why shouldst thou pull vengeance down upon thee? why shouldst thou pull vengeance down from heaven upon thee? Look up; perhaps thou hast already been pulling this great while, to pull it down upon thee. Oh, pull no longer; why shouldst thou be thine own executioner? Fall down upon thy knees, man, and up with thy heart and thy hands to the God that dwells in the heavens; cry, yea, cry aloud, "Lord, unite my heart to fear thy name, and do not harden mine heart from thy fear." Thus holy men have cried before thee, and by crying have prevented judgment.
I take the pinnacles on the top of the temple to be types of those lofty, airy notions, with which some delight themselves, while they hover like birds above the solid and godly truths of Christ. Satan attempted to entertain Christ Jesus with this type and antitype at once, when he set him on one of the pinnacles of the temple, and offered to thrust him upon a false confidence in God, by a false and unsound interpretation of a text. Matt. 4:5,6; Luke 4:9-11.
You have some men who cannot be content to worship in the temple, but must be aloft; no place will serve them but pinnacles—pinnacles, that they may be speaking in and to the air, that they may be promoting their heady notions, instead of solid truth—not considering that now they are where the devil would have them be. They strut upon their points, their pinnacles; but let them look to it: there is difficult standing upon pinnacles; their neck, their soul, is in danger. We read, God is in his temple, not upon these pinnacles. Psalm 4; Hab. 2:20.
It is true, Christ was once upon one of these; but the devil set him there, with intent to dash him in pieces by a fall; and yet even then told him, if he would venture to tumble down, he should be kept from dashing his foot against a stone. To be there, therefore, was one of Christ's temptations; consequently one of Satan's stratagems: nor went he thither of his own accord, for he knew that there was danger; he loved not to clamber pinnacles.
This should teach Christians to be low and little in their own eyes, and to forbear to intrude into airy and vain speculations, and to take heed of being puffed up with a foul and empty mind.
The loaves or showbread in the temple were to have frankincense strewed upon them as they stood upon the golden table, which was a type of the sweet perfumes of the sanctification of the Holy Ghost.
They were to be set upon the pure table, new and hot, to show that God delights in the company of new and warm believers. "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth; when Israel was a child, I loved him." Men at first conversion are like to a cake well baked, and new taken from the oven; they are warm, and cast forth a very fragrant scent, especially when, as warm, sweet increase is strewed upon them.
"When the showbread was old and stale, it was to be taken away, and new and warm put in its place, to show that God has but little delight in the service of his own people, when their duties grow stale and mouldy. Therefore he removed his old, stale, mouldy church of the Jews from before him, and set in their room upon the golden table the warm church of the Gentiles."
Zeal without knowledge is like a mettled horse without eyes, or like a sword in a madman's hand; and there is no knowledge where there is not the word.
Repentance carries with it a divine rhetoric, and persuades Christ to forgive a multitude of sins committed against him.
One difference between true and false repentance lieth in this: the man who truly repents crieth out against his heart; but the other, as Eve, against the serpent, or something else.
There are abundance of dry-eyed Christians in the world, and abundance of dry-eyed duties too—duties that never were wet with the tears of contrition and repentance.
Take heed that a sin in thy life goes not unrepented of, for that will make a flaw in thine evidence, a wound in thy conscience, and a breach in thy peace; and a hundred to one if at last it doth not drive all the grace in thee into so dark a corner of thy heart, that thou shalt not be able, for a time, by all the torches that are burning in the gospel, to find it out to thy own comfort and consolation.
As vices hang together, and have the links of a chain, dependence one upon another, even so the graces of the Spirit also are the fruits of one another, and have such dependence on each other that the one cannot be without the other.
No faith, no fear of God: devil's faith, devil's fear; saints' faith, saints' fear.
CHARACTERISTICS OF PRAYER.
WHAT is prayer? A sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, for such things as God hath promised.
The best prayers have often more groans than words.
Alas, how few there be in the world whose heart and mouth in prayer shall go together. Dost thou, when thou askest for the Spirit, or faith, or love to God, to holiness, to saints, to the word, and the like, ask for them with love to them, desire of them, hungering after them? Oh, this is a mighty thing; and yet prayer is no more before God than as it is seasoned with these blessed qualifications. Wherefore it is said, that while men are praying, God is searching the heart to see what is the meaning of the Spirit, or whether there be the Spirit and his meaning in all that the mouth hath uttered, either by words, sighs, or groans, because it is by him and through his help only that any make prayers according to the will of God. Rom. 8:26,27.
PREPARATION FOR PRATER.
Before you enter into prayer, ask thy soul these questions: To what end, O my soul, art thou retired into this place? Art thou not come to discourse the Lord in prayer? Is he present, will he hear thee? Is he merciful, will he help thee? Is thy business slight, is it not concerning the welfare of thy soul? What words wilt thou use to move him to compassion?
THE THRONE OF GRACE.
We know the throne of grace from other thrones by the glory that it always appears in when revealed to us of God: its glory outshines all; there is no such glory to be seen anywhere else, either in heaven or earth. But I say, this comes by the sight that God gives, not by any excellency that there is in my natural understanding, as such: my understanding and apprehension, simply as natural, are blind and foolish; wherefore, when I set to work in mine own spirit and in the power of mine own abilities, to reach to this throne of grace and to perceive somewhat of the glory thereof, then am I dark, rude, foolish; I see nothing, and my heart grows flat, dull, savorless, lifeless, and has no warmth in the duty; but it mounts up with wings like an eagle when the throne is truly apprehended.
This throne is the seat of grace and mercy, and therefore it is called the mercy-seat and throne of grace. This throne turns all into grace, all into mercy; this throne makes all things work together for good. It is said of Saul's sons, 2 Sam. 21:10-14, they were not buried after they were hanged until water dropped upon them out of heaven; and it may be said of us, there is nothing suffered to come near us until it is washed in that water that proceeds from the throne of grace. Hence afflictions flow from grace; persecutions flow from grace; poverty, sickness, yea, death itself is now made ours by the grace of God through Christ. Psa. 119:67-71; 1 Cor. 3:22; Rev. 3:19; Heb. 12:5-7. O grace, O happy church of God! all things that happen to thee are for Christ's sake turned into grace. They talk of the philosopher's stone, and how if one had it, it would turn all things into gold. Oh, but can it turn all things into grace—can it make all things work together for good? No, no; this quality, virtue, excellency—what shall I call it?—nothing has in it but the grace that reigns on the throne of grace, the river that proceeds from the throne of God. This, this turns majesty, authority, the highest authority, glory, wisdom, faithfulness, justice, and all into grace. Here is a throne; may God let us see it. John had the honor to see it, and to see the streams proceeding from it. O sweet sight, O heart-cherishing sight! "He showed me a pure river of water of life proceeding out of the throne of God."
Indeed, as was hinted before, in the days of the reign of antichrist there are not those visions of this throne, nor of the river that proceedeth therefrom: now he holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth a cloud upon it; but the preserving, saving benefits thereof we have, as also have all the saints in the most cloudy and dark day. And since we can see so little, we must believe the more; and by believing, give glory to God. We must also labor for more clear scripture knowledge of this throne, for the holy word of God is the perspective-glass by which we may, and the magnifying-glass that will cause us to behold with open face the glory of this Lord. 2 Cor. 3: 18.
"A throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne;" that is, God. And this intimates his desirable rest for ever; for to sit is to rest, and Christ is his rest for ever. Was it not therefore well worth the seeing-yea, if John had taken the pains to go up thither upon his hands and knees?
It is grace that chooses, it is grace that calleth; it is grace that preserveth, and it is grace that brings to glory, even the grace that, like a river of water of life, proceeds from this" throne of grace;" and hence it is, that from first to last, we must cry, Grace, grace, unto it.
Thus you see what a throne the Christian is invited to: it is a throne of grace whereon doth sit the God of all grace; it is a throne of grace before which the Lord Jesus ministers continually for us; it is a throne of grace sprinkled with the blood, and in the midst of which is a Lamb as it had been slain; it is a throne with a rainbow round about it, which is the token of the everlasting covenant, and out of which proceeds a river, a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal.
Look then for these signs of the throne of grace, all you that would come to it, and rest not until by some of them you know that you are even come to it: they are all to be seen, have you but eyes; and the sight of them is very delectable, and has a natural tendency to revive and quicken the soul.
PRAYER IN THE NAME OF CHUIST.
He that thinks to find grace at God's hand, and yet enters not into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, will find himself mistaken, and will find a dead instead of a living way. For if not any thing below or besides blood can yield remission on God's part, how should remission be received by us without our acting faith therein? We are justified by his blood, through faith in his blood.
Wherefore look, when thou approachest the throne of grace, that thou give diligence to seek for the "Lamb as it had been slain," that is in the midst of the throne of grace; and then thou wilt have not only a sign that thou presentest thy supplication to God where and as thou shouldst, but there also wilt thou meet with matter to break, to soften, to bend, to bow, and to make thy heart as thou wouldst have it. This sight shall dissolve and melt down the spirit of that man that is upon his knees before the throne of grace for mercy; especially when he shall see, that not his prayers, nor his tears, nor his wants, but the blood of the Lamb, has prevailed with a God of grace to give mercy and grace to an undeserving sinner.
God hath prepared a golden altar for thee to offer thy prayers and tears upon, coming sinner. A golden altar! It is called a golden altar, to show what worth it is of in God's account; for this golden altar is Jesus Christ—this altar sanctifies thy gift, and makes thy sacrifice acceptable.
This altar then makes thy groans golden groans, thy tears golden tears, and thy prayers golden prayers, in the eye of that God thou comest to.
BENEFIT OF PRAYER.
Pray often; for prayer is a shield for the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.
Look yonder! Ah, methinks mine eyes do see Clouds edged with silver, as fine garments be; They look as if they saw the golden face That makes black clouds most beautiful with grace.
Unto the saints' sweet incense of their prayer, These smoky curled clouds I do compare; For as these clouds seem edged or laced with gold, Their prayers return with blessings manifold.
Prayer is as the pitcher that fetcheth water from the brook, therewith to water the herbs: break the pitcher and it will fetch no water, and for want of water the garden withers.
The godly have found all other places, the throne of grace excepted, empty, and places that hold no water. They have been at mount Sinai for help, but could find nothing there but fire and darkness, but thunder and lightning, but earthquakes and trembling, and a voice of killing words.
They have sought for grace by their own performances; but, alas, they have yielded them nothing but wind and confusion; not a performance, not a duty, not an act in any part of religious worship, but they, looking upon it in the glass of the Lord, do find it specked and defective.
They have sought for grace by their resolutions, their vows, their purposes, and the like; but alas, they all do as the other, discover that they have been very imperfectly managed, and so are such as can by no means help them to grace.
They have gone to their tears, their sorrow, and repentance, if perhaps they might find some help there; but all has fled away like the early dew.
They have gone to God as the great Creator, and have beheld how wonderful his works have been; they have looked to the heavens above, to the earth beneath, and to all their ornaments; but neither have these, nor what is of them, yielded grace to those that had sensible want thereof.
They have gone with these pitchers to their fountains, and have returned empty and ashamed; they found no water, no river of water of life.
Paul, not finding it in the law, despairs to find it in any thing else below, but presently betakes himself to look for it where he had not yet found it: he looked for it by Jesus Christ, who is the throne of grace, where he found it, and rejoiced in hope of the glory of God.
O, when a God of grace is upon a throne of grace, and a poor sinner stands by and begs for grace, and that in the name of a gracious Christ, in and by the help of the Spirit of grace, can it be otherwise but such a sinner must obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need?
All the sorrow that is mixed with our Christianity proceeds, as the procuring cause, from ourselves, not from the throne of grace; for that is the place where our tears are wiped away, and also where we hang up our crutches: the streams thereof are pure and clear, not muddy nor frozen, but warm and delightful, and they make glad the city of God.
DISCOURAGEMENTS IN PRAYER.
There is an aptness in those that come to the throne of grace, to cast every degree of faith away that carries not in it self-evidence of its own being and nature, thinking that if it be faith, it must be known to the soul; yea, if it be faith, it will do so and so—even so as the highest degree of faith will do: when, alas, faith is sometimes in a calm, sometimes up, and sometimes down, and sometimes in conflict with sin, death, and the devil. Faith now has but little time to speak peace to the conscience; it is now struggling for life, it is now fighting with angels, with infernals; all it can do now, is to cry, groan, sweat, fear, fight, and gasp for life.
I know what it is to go to God for mercy, and stand all the while through fear afar off, being possessed with this, Will not God now smite me at once to the ground for my sins? David thought something so when he said as he prayed, "Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me."
None know, but those that have them, what turns and returns, what coming on and going off, there are in the spirit of a man that indeed is awakened, and that stands awakened before the glorious Majesty in prayer.
It is a great matter, in praying to God, not to go too far; nor come too short; and a man is very apt to do one or the other. The Pharisee went so far, he was too bold; he came into the temple making, such a ruffle with his own excellencies, there was in his thoughts no need of a Mediator.
It has been the custom of praying men to keep their distance, and not to be rudely bold in rushing into the presence of the holy and heavenly Majesty, especially if they have been sensible of their own vileness and sins, as the prodigal, the lepers, and the poor publican were. Yea, Peter himself, when upon a time he perceived more than commonly he did of the majesty of Jesus his Lord, what doth he do? "He fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
Oh, when men see God and themselves, it fills them with holy fear of the greatness of the majesty of God, as well as with love to, and desire after, his mercy.
What is poor sorry man, poor dust and ashes, that he should crowd up, and go jostlingly into the presence of the great God?
For my part, I find it one of the hardest things that I can put my soul upon, even to come to God, when warmly sensible that I am a sinner, for a share in grace, in mercy. Oh, methinks it seems to me as if the whole face of the heavens were set against me. Yea, the very thought of God, strikes me through; I cannot bear up, I cannot stand before him; I cannot but with a thousand tears say, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Ezra 9: 15.
At another time, when my heart is more hard and stupid, and when his terror doth not make me afraid, then I can come before him and ask mercy at his hand, and scarce be sensible of sin or grace, or that indeed I am before God. But above all, they are the rare times, when I can go to God as the publican, sensible of his glorious majesty, sensible of my misery, and bear up, and affectionately cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
At certain times the most godly man in the world may be hard put to it by the sin that dwelleth in him; yea, so hard put to it, that there can be no way to save himself from a fall, but by imploring heaven and the throne of grace for help. This is called the needy-time, the time when the wayfaring man that knocked at David's door shall knock at ours; or when we are got into the sieve into which Satan did get Peter; or when those fists are about our ears that were about Paul's; and when that thorn pricks us that Paul said was in his flesh. But why, or how comes it to pass, that the godly are so hard put to it at these times, but because there is in them—that is, in their flesh—no good thing, but consequently all aptness to close in with the devil and his suggestions, to the overthrow of the soul?
But now, here we are presented with a throne of grace, unto which, as David says, we must continually resort; and that is the way to ohtain relief and to find help in time of need.
DISCOURAGEMENTS TO PRAYER REMOVED.
QUERY. What would you have a poor creature do, that cannot tell how to pray?
ANSWER. Thou canst not, thou complainest, pray; canst thou see thy misery? Hath God showed thee that thou art by nature under the curse of his law? If so, do not mistake. I know thou dost groan, and that most bitterly; I am persuaded thou canst scarcely be found doing any thing in thy calling. But prayer breaks from thy heart. Have not thy groans gone up to heaven from every corner of thy house? I know it is thus: and so also doth thine own sorrowful heart witness thy tears and thy forgetfulness of thy calling. Is not thy heart so full of desires after the things of another world, that many times thou dost even forget the things of this world? Prithee, read this scripture: Job 23: 12.
QUERY. Yea, but when I go in secret, and intend to pour out my soul before God, I can scarce say any thing at all.
ANSWER. Ah, sweet soul, it is not thy words that God so much regards, that he will not mind thee except thou comest before him with some eloquent oration. His eye is on the brokenness of thy heart; and that it is which makes the compassions of the Lord run over: "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
The stopping of thy words—may arise from overmuch trouble in thy heart. David was so troubled sometimes that he could not speak. But this may comfort all such sorrowful hearts as thine, that though thou canst not through the anguish of thy spirit speak much, yet the Holy Spirit stirs up in thy heart groans and sighs so much the more vehement.
AFFECTIONATE CONFIDENCE IN PRAYER.
God has given thee his Son's righteousness to justify thee; he has also, because thou art a son, sent forth the Spirit of his Son into thy heart to satisfy thee, and to help thee to cry unto him, Father, Father! Wilt thou not cry? wilt thou not desire? Thy God has "bidden thee open thy mouth; he has bid thee open it wide," and promised, saying, "and I will fill it;" and wilt thou not desire?
Oh, thou hast a license, a leave, a grant to desire; wherefore, "be not afraid to desire great mercies of the God of heaven."
OBJECTION. "But I am an unworthy creature."
ANSWER. That is true; but God gives to no man for his worthiness, nor rejects any for their sinfulness, that come to him sensible of the want and worth of mercy for them. Besides, the desires of a righteous man, and the desires or his God, agree. God has a desire to thee, thou hast a desire to him. God desires truth in the inward parts and so dost thou with all thy heart. God desires mercy, and to show it to the needy; that is what thou also wantest, and what thy soul craves at his hand.
Seek, man; ask, knock, and do not be discouraged; the Lord will grant all thy desires. Thou sayest thou art unworthy to ask the greatest things, things spiritual and heavenly: well, will carnal things serve thee, and answer the desires of thy heart? Canst thou be content to be put off with a belly well filled and a back well clothed?
"Oh, better I never had been born."
See! thou wilt not ask the best, and yet canst not make shift without them.
"Shift? no; no shift without them; I am undone without them, undone for ever and ever," sayest thou.
Well then, desire.
"So I do," sayest thou.
Ah, but desire with more strong desires; desire with more large desires; desire spiritual gifts, covet them earnestly; thou hast a license too to do so. God bids thee do so, for he hath said, "The desire of the righteous shall be granted."
GOD'S METHOD OF ANSWERING PRAYER.
"The desire of the righteous shall be granted." But I find it not so, says one; for though I have desired and desired a thousand times upon my knees, for something that I want, yet I have not my desire; and indeed, the consideration of this has made me question whether I am one of those to whom the promise of granting desires is made.
ANSWER. What are the things thou desirest; are they lawful or unlawful? for a Christian may desire unlawful things.
But we will suppose that the thing thou. desirest is good, and that thy heart may be right in asking, as, suppose thou desirest more grace; yet there are several things for thy instruction may be applied to thy objection: as,
1. Thou, though thou desirest more of this, mayest not yet be so sensible of the worth of what thou askest, as perhaps God will have thee be before he granteth thy desire.
2. Hast thou well improved what thou hast received already?
3. When God gives to his people the grant of their desires, he doth it so as may be best for our advantage: as,
(1.) Just before a temptation comes; then if it rains grace on thee from heaven, it may be most for thy advantage. This is like God's sending plenty in Egypt just before the years of famine came.
(2.) Christians, even righteous men, are apt to lean too much to their own doings; and God, to wean them from them, ofttimes defers to do, what they by doing expect, until in doing their spirits are spent, and they, as to doing, can do no longer. When they that cried for water, had cried till their spirits failed, and their tongue did cleave to the roof of their mouth for thirst, then the Lord did hear, and then the God of Israel did give them their desire. The righteous would be too light in asking, and would too much owrprize their works, if their God should not sometimes deal in this manner with them.
(3.) It is also to the advantage of the righteous, that they be kept and led in that way which will best improve grace already received, and that is, when they spin it out and use it to the utmost; when they do with it as the prophet did with that meal's meat that he ate under the juniper-tree, "go in the strength of it forty days and forty nights, even to the mount of God." Or when they do as the widow did—spend upon their handful of flour in the barrel, and upon that little oil in the cruse, till God shall send more plenty.
A little true grace will go a great way, yea, and do more wonders than we are aware of. If we have but grace enough to keep us groaning after God, it is not all the world that can destroy us.
4. Perhaps thou mayest be mistaken. The grace thou prayest for may in a great measure be come unto thee.
Thou hast been desiring of God, thou sayest, more grace, but hast it not.
But how, if while thou lookest for it to come to thee at one door, it come to thee at another? And that we may a little inquire into the truth of this, let us a little, consider what are the effects of grace in its coming to the soul, and then see if it has not been coming unto thee almost ever since thou hast set upon this fresh desire after it.
(1.) Grace, in the general effect of it, is to mend the soul, and to make it better disposed. Hence, when it comes, it brings convincing light along with it, by which a man sees more of his baseness than at other times. If, then, thou seest thyself more vile than formerly, grace by its coming to thee has done this for thee.
(2.) Grace, when it comes, breaks and crumbles the heart in the sense and sight of its own vileness. A man stands amazed and confounded in himself; breaks and falls down on his face before God; is ashamed to lift up so much as his face to God, at the sight and apprehension of how wicked he is.
(3.) Grace, when it comes, shows to a man more of the holiness and patience of God; his holiness to make us wonder at his patience, and his patience to make us wonder at his mercy, that yet, even yet, such a vile one as I am should be admitted to breathe in the land of the living, yea more, suffered to come to the throne of grace.
(4.) Grace is of a heart-humbling nature; it will make a man account himself the most unworthy of any thing, of all saints. It will make a man put all others before him, and be glad too if he may be one beloved, though least beloved because most unworthy. It will make him with gladness accept of the lowest room, as counting all saints more worthy of exaltation than himself.
(5.) Grace will make a man prize other men's graces and gracious actions above his own; as he thinks every man's candle burns brighter than his, every man improves grace better than he, every good man does more sincerely his duty than he. And if these be not some of the effects of the renewings of grace, I will confess I have taken my mark amiss.
(6.) Renewings of grace beget renewed self-bemoanings, self-condemnations, self-abhorrences.
And say thou prayest for communion with, and the presence of God. God can have communion with thee and grant thee his presence, and all this shall, instead of comforting thee at present, more confound thee and make thee see thy wickedness.
Some people think they never have the presence and renewings of God's grace upon them, but when they are comforted and when they are cheered up—when, alas, God may be richly with them, while they cry out by these visions, My sorrows are multiplied; or, Because I have seen God, I shall die.
And tell me now, all these things considered, has not grace, even the grace of God which thou hast so much desired, been coming to thee and working in thee in all these hidden methods? Thus therefore thy desire is accomplishing, and when it is accomplished will be sweet to thy soul.
5. But we will follow thee a little in the way of thy heart. Thou sayest thou desirest, and desirest grace, yea, hast been a thousand times upon thy knees before God for more grace, and yet thou canst not attain.
I answer, (1.) It maybe, the grace which thou prayest for is worth thy being upon thy knees yet a thousand times more. "We find that usually they that go to king's courts for preferment, are there at great expenses, yea, and wait a great while, even until they have spent their whole estates, and worn out their patience too."
Yet they at last prevail, and the thing desired comes; yea, and when it is come, it sets them up anew and makes them better men, though they did spend all they had to obtain it, than ever they were before. Wait, therefore, wait, I say, on the Lord; bid thy soul cheer up and wait. "Blessed are all they that wait for him."
(2.) Thou must consider that great grace is reserved for great service. Thou desirest abundance of grace; thon doest well, and thou shalt have what shall qualify thee for the service that God has for thee to do for him, and for his name in the world. The apostles themselves were to stay for great grace until the time their work was come. I will not allot thy service, but assure thyself, when thy desire cometh, thou wilt have occasion for it—new work, new trials, new sufferings, or something that will call for the power and virtue of all the grace thou shalt have to keep thy spirit even, and thy feet from slipping, while thou art exercised in new engagements.
Assure thyself thy God will not give thee straw, but he will expect brick. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." Wherefore, as thou art busy in desiring more grace, be also desirous that wisdom to manage it with faithfulness may also be granted unto thee.
Thou wilt say, Grace, if I had it, will do all this for me.
It will, and will not. It will, if thou watch and be sober; it will not, if thou be foolish and remiss. Men of great grace may grow consumptive in grace, and idleness may turn him that wears a plush jacket into rags. David was once a man of great grace, but his sin made the grace which he had so to shrink up and dwindle away as to make him cry out, O take not thy Spirit utterly from me!
(3.) Or, perhaps God withholds what thou wouldst have, that it may be the more prized by thee when it comes. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life."
(4.) Lastly. But dost thou think that thy more grace will exempt thee from temptations? Alas, the more grace, the greater trials. Thou must be, for all that, like the ship of which thou readest: sometimes high, sometimes low; sometimes steady, sometimes staggering; and sometimes even at the end of thy very wits: "For so he brings us to our desired haven."
Yet grace is the gold and preciousness of the righteous man: yea, and herein appears the uprightness of his soul, in that, though all these things attend the grace of God in him, yet he chooseth grace here above all, for that it makes him the more like God and his Christ, and for that it seasons his heart best to his own content; and also for that it capacitates him to glorify God in the world.
RELIEF IN PRAYER.
If from a sense of thy vileness thou do pour out thy heart to God, desiring to be saved from the guilt and cleansed from the filth with all thy heart, fear not; thy vileness will not cause the Lord to stop his ear from hearing thee. The value of the blood of Christ, which is sprinkled upon the mercy-seat, stops the course of justice, and opens a floodgate for the mercy of the Lord to be extended unto thee.
FAITH IN PRAYER.
Of old, beggars did use to carry their bowls in their laps when they went to a door for alms; consequently, if their bowls were but little, they ofttimes came off with a loss, though the charity of the giver was large. Art thou a beggar, a beggar at God's door? be sure thou gettest a great bowl, for as thy bowl is, so will be thy mess. "According to thy faith be it unto thee."
A wrestling spirit of prayer is a demonstration of an Israel of God; this Jacob had, this he made use of, and by this he obtained the name of Israel. A wrestling spirit of prayer in straits, difficulties, and distresses—a wrestling spirit of prayer when alone, in private, in the night, when no eye seeth but God's, then to be at it, then to lay hold of God, then to wrestle, to hold fast, and not to give over until the blessing is obtained, is a sign of one that is an Israel of God.
As this word, "LET Israel hope in the Lord," is sometimes equivalent to a command, so it is expressed sometimes also to show a grant, leave, or license to do a thing, such are these that follow: "Let us come boldly to the throne of grace; let us draw near with a true heart; let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering." Understand the word thus, and it shows you how muddy how dark those of Israel are, and how little they are acquainted with the goodness of their God who stand shrinking at his door like beggars, and dare not in a godly sort be bold with his mercy. Wherefore standest thou thus with thy ifs and thy O-buts, O thou poor benighted Israelite? Wherefore puttest thou thy hand in thy bosom, as being afraid to touch the hem of the garment of thy Lord?
THE PUBLICAN'S PRAYER.
"God be merciful to me a sinner." Herein the publican showeth wonderful wisdom. For,
1. By this he thrusts himself under the shelter and blessing of the promise; and I am sure it is better and safer to do so than to rely upon the best excellencies that this world can afford. Hosea 14: 1-4.
2. He takes the ready way to please God; for God takes more delight in showing mercy than in any thing that we can do. Hosea 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7. Yea, and that also is the man that pleaseth him, even he that hopes in his mercy. Psalm 147: 1. The publican, therefore, whatever the Pharisee might think, stood all this while upon sure ground, and had by far the start of him for heaven. Alas, his dull head could look no further than to the conceit of the pitiful beauty and splendor of his own righteousness; nor durst he leave that to trust wholly to the mercy of God. But the publican comes out, though in his sins, yet like an awakened, enlightened, resolved man; and first abases himself, then gives God the glory of his justice, and after that the glory of his mercy, by saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." And thus in the ears of the angels he did ring the changes of heaven. And,
3. The publican, in his thus putting himself upon mercy, showeth that in his opinion there is more virtue in mercy to save, than there is in the law and sin to condemn. And although this is not counted a great matter to do, while men are far from the law and while their conscience is asleep within them, yet when the law comes near and conscience is awake, whoso tries it will find it a laborious work. Cain could not do thus for his heart, no, nor soul; nor Judas neither. This is another kind of thing than most men think it to be, or shall find it whenever they shall behold God's angry face, and when they shall hear the words of his law.
However, our publican did it, and ventured his body, soul, and future condition for ever in this bottom, with other the saints and servants of God; leaving the world to swim over the sea of God's wrath, if they, will, in their weak and simple vessels of bulrushes, or to lean upon their cobweb-hold, when he shall arise to the judgment that he hath appointed.
"He would not lift up his eyes to heaven." Why? Surely because shame had covered his face. Shame will make a man blush and hang his head like a bulrush. Shame for sin is a virtue, a comely thing, yea, a beauty-spot in the face of a sinner that cometh to God for mercy.
Oh, to stand, or sit, or lie, or kneel, or walk before God in prayer, with blushing cheeks for sin, is one of the excellent sights that can be seen in the world.
POSTURE IN PRAYER.
There is no stinted order presented for our behaving ourselves in prayer, whether kneeling, or standing, or walking, or lying, or sitting; for all these postures have been used by the godly. Paul kneeled down and prayed; Abraham and the publican stood and prayed; David prayed as he walked; Abraham prayed lying upon his face; Moses prayed sitting. And indeed prayer, effectual fervent prayer, may be and often is made unto God under all these circumstances. For God has not tied us up to any of them; and he that shall tie himself or his people to any of these, doeth more than he hath warrant for from God. And let such take care of innovating; it is the next way to make men hypocrites and dissemblers in those duties in which they should be sincere. Acts 20:36; 2 Sam. 15:30, 31; Gen. 17:17, 18; Exod. 17:12.
Let those that name the name of Christ depart from the iniquity of their closet—when men have a closet to talk of, not to pray in; a closet to look upon, not to bow before God in, a closet to lay up gold in, but not to mourn in for the sins of the life; a closet that, could it speak, would say, My owner is seldom here upon his knees before the God of heaven, seldom here humbling himself for the iniquity of his heart, or to thank God for the mercies of his life.
Then also a man is guilty of closet-iniquity when, though he doth not utterly live in the neglect of duty, he formally, carnally, and without reverence and godly fear, performs it. Also when he asketh God for that which he cannot abide should be given him; or when he prayeth for that in his closet, that he cannot abide in his house nor his life.
It is a great thing to be a closet-Christian, and to hold it; he must be a close-Christian that will be a closet-Christian. When I say a close-Christian, I mean one that is so in the hidden part, and that also walks with God. Many there be that profess Christ, who do oftener frequent the coffee-house than their closet; and that sooner in a morning run to make bargains, than to pray unto God and begin the day with him. But for thee, who professest the name of Christ, do thou depart from all these things; do thou make conscience of reading and practising; do thou follow after righteousness; do thou make conscience of beginning the day with God. For he that begins it not with him, will hardly end it with him; he that runs from God in the morning, will hardly find him at the close of the day; nor will he that begins with the world and the vanities thereof in the first place, be very capable of walking with God all the day after. It is he that finds God in his closet, that will carry the savor of him into his house, his shop, and his more open conversation. When Moses had been with God in the mount his face shone, he brought of that glory into the camp. Exod. 34.
"Thy kingdom come; thy will be done." Wouldst thou have the kingdom of God come indeed, and also his will to be done in earth as it is in heaven? Nay, notwithstanding thou sayest, "Thy kingdom come," yet would it not make thee ready to run mad, to hear the trumpet sound, to see the dead arise, and thyself just now to go and appeal before God, to reckon for all the deeds thou hast done in the body? Nay, are not the very thoughts of it altogether displeasing to thee?
And if God's will should be done on earth as it is in heaven, must it not be thy ruin? There is never a rebel against God in heaven; and if he should so deal on earth, must he not whirl thee down to hell? And so of the rest of the petitions.
Ah, how sadly would even these men look, and with what terror would they walk up and down the world, if they did but know the lying and blaspheming that proceedeth out of their mouth, even in their most pretended sanctity!
I tell thee who never prayest, the ravens shall rise up in judgment against thee; for they will, according to their kind, make signs and a noise for something to refresh them when they want it; but thou hast not the heart to ask for heaven, though thou must eternally perish in hell if thou hast it not.
XX. FALSE PROFESSION.
As there are trees and herbs that are wholly right and noble, fit indeed for the vineyard, so there are also their semblance, but wild; not right, but ignoble. There is the grape, and the wild grape; the vine, and the wild vine; the rose, and the canker-rose; flowers, and wild flowers; the apple, and the wild apple, which we call the crab. Now, fruit from these wild things, however they may please the children to play with, yet the prudent and grave count them of little or no value. There are also in the world a generation of professors that, notwithstanding their profession, are wild by nature; yea, such as were never cut out or off from the wild olive-tree, nor ever yet planted into the good olive-tree. Now these can bring forth nothing but wild olive-berries; they cannot bring forth fruit unto God. Such are all those that have lightly taken up a profession, and crept into the vineyard without a new birth and the blessing of regeneration.
The porch [Footnote: This passage is from "The House of the Forest of Lebanon," which Bunyan regarded as a type of the church in her persecuted state.] is but the entrance of the house, whither many go that yet step not into the house, but make their retreat from thence; but it is because they are non-residents: they only come to see; or else, if they pretended more, it was not from the heart. "They went out from us," said John, "but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out that it might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
And forasmuch as this porch was fifty cubits long, men may take many a step straightforward therein, and be but in the porch yet; even as we have seen men go as one would think till they are out of view, in the porch of this church in the wilderness; but presently you have them without the door again.
True, this porch was made of pillars; and so to every one, at first entrance, it seemed the power of the place. The church in the wilderness also is so builded, that men may see that it is ordained for defence. Men also, at their first offer to step over the threshold there, with mouth profess that they will dwell as soldiers there. But words are but wind: when they see the storm coming, they will take care to shift for themselves. This house or church in the wilderness must see to itself for all them.
The church also in the wilderness, even in her porch or first entrance into it, is full of pillars—apostles, prophets, and martyrs of Jesus. There also hang up the shields that the old warriors have used, and there are plastered upon the walls the brave achievements which they have done. There also are such encouragements there for those that stand, that one would think none that came thither with pretence to serve there, would for very shame attempt to go back again; and yet not to their credit be it spoken, they will forsake the place without blushing, yea, and plead for this their so doing.
There is the wilfully ignorant professor, or he that is afraid to know more for fear of the cross. He is for picking and choosing of truth, and loveth not to hazard his all for that worthy name by which he would be called. When he is at any time overset by arguments or awakenings of conscience, he uses to heal all by, "I was not brought up in this faith;" as if it were unlawful for Christians to know more than hath been taught them at first conversion. There are many scriptures that lie against this man, as the mouths of great guns.
There is another professor; and he is for God and for Baal too: he can be any thing for any company; he can throw stones with both hands; his religion alters as fast as his company; he is a frog of Egypt, and can live in the water and out of the water; he can live in religious company, and again as well out. Nothing that is disorderly comes amiss to him; he can hold with the hare and run with the hound; he carries fire in one hand and water in the other; he is a very, any thing but what he should be. This is also one of the many that "will seek to enter in, and will not be able."
Christian and Hopeful, after their headstrong manner, (said Mr. By-ends,) conclude that it is their duty to rush on their journey all weathers; and I am for waiting for wind and tide. They are for hazarding all for God at a clap; and I am for taking all advantages to secure my life and estate. They are for holding their notions, though all other men be against them; but I am for religion in what and so far as the times and any safety will bear it. They are for religion when in rags and contempt; but I am for him when he walks in golden slippers, in the sunshine, and with applause.
Then I saw in my dream that Christian and Hopeful forsook him, and kept their distance before him; but one of them looking back, saw three men following Mr. By-ends; and behold, as they came up with him he made them a very low congee, and they also gave him a compliment. The men's names were, Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr, Money-love, and Mr. Save-all; men that Mr. By-ends had formerly been acquainted with, for in their minority they were schoolfellows, and were taught by one Mr. Gripe-man, a schoolmaster in Love-gain, which is a market-town in the county of Coveting, in the North. This schoolmaster taught them the art of getting, either by violence, cozenage, flattery, lying, or by putting on a guise of religion; and these four gentlemen had attained much of the art of their master, so that they could each of them have kept such a school themselves.
The Interpreter takes them out into his garden, and had them to a tree whose inside was all rotten and gone, and yet it grew and had leaves. Then said Mercy, "What means this?" "This tree," said he, "whose outside is fair and whose inside is rotten, is it which may be compared to them that are in the garden of God, who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but in deed will do nothing for him; whose leaves are fair, but their heart good for nothing but to be tinder for the devil's tinder-box."
This is the reason of that evil-favoredness that you see attending some men's lives and professions; they have been corrupted, as Adam was, either by evil words or bad examples, even till the very face of their lives and professions are disfigured as with the pox or canker.
As the bramble said to the rest of the trees, so saith Christ to feigned thanksgivers, who pretend to give thanks for liberty, but rather use their liberty as an occasion for the flesh: If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust under my shadow; submit to my law, and be governed by my testament.
Hypocrisy is one of the most abominable of iniquities. It is a sin that dares it with God. It is a sin that saith God is ignorant, or that he delighteth in iniquity. It is a sin that flattereth, that dissembleth, that offereth to hold God, as it were, fair in hand, about that which is neither purposed nor intended. It is also a sin that puts a man upon studying and contriving to beguile and deceive his neighbor as to the bent and intent of the heart, and also as to the cause and end of actions. It is a sin that persuadeth a man to make a show of civility, morality, or religion, as a cloak, a pretence, a guise to deceive withal. It will make a man preach for a place and praise, rather than to glorify God and save souls; it will put a man upon talking, that he may be commended; it will make a man, when he is at prayer in his closet, strive to be heard without door; it will make a man ask for that he desireth not, and show zeal in duties when his heart is as cold, as senseless, and as much without savor as a clod; it will make a man pray to be seen and heard of men, rather than to be heard of God; it will make a man strive to weep when he repenteth not, and to pretend much friendship when he doth not love; it will make a man pretend to experience and sanctification when he has none, and to faith and sincerity when he knows not what they are. There is opposed to this sin, simplicity, innocence, and godly sincerity, without which three graces thou wilt be a hypocrite. Believe that a hypocrite, with the cunning and shrouds for his hypocrisy, can go unseen no further than the grave; nor can he longer flatter himself with thoughts of life.
A hypocrite and a false professor may go a great way; they may pass through the first and second watch, to wit, may be approved by Christians and churches; but what will they do when they come at the iron gate that leadeth into the city?
As Luther says, "In the name of God" begins all mischief. For hypocrites have no other way to bring their evils to maturity, but by using and mixing the name of God and religion therewith. Thus they become whited walls; for by this white, the white of religion, the dirt of their actions is hid.
Religion to most men is but a by-business, with which they use to fill up spare hours; or as a stalking-horse, which is used to catch the game.
The Pharisees did carry the bell and wear the garland for religion.
A fawning dog and a wolf in sheep's clothing; they differ a little in outward appearance, but they can both agree to worry Christ's lambs.
CHRIST'S LOVE ABUSED.
Take heed of abusing this love of Christ, Eph. 3: 18, 19. This exhortation seems needless; for love is such a thing as one would think none could find in their hearts to abuse. But for all that, I am of opinion that there is nothing that is more abused among professors at this day, than is this love of God. And what can such a one say for himself in the judgment, that shall be charged with the abuse of love? Christians, deny yourselves, deny your lusts, deny the vanities of this present life, devote yourselves to God, become lovers of God, lovers of his ways, and a people zealous of good works; then shall you show to one another and to all men that you have not received the grace of God in vain. And what a thing will it be to be turned off at last, as one that abused the love of Christ; as one that presumed upon his lusts, this world, and all manner of naughtiness, because the love of Christ to pardon sins was so great! What an unthinking, what a disingenuous one wilt thou be counted at that day; yea, thou wilt be found to be the man that made a prey of love, that made a stalk ing-horse of love, that made of love a slave to sin, the devil, and the world; and will not that be had?
OBJECTION. If it be so, then men need not care what they do; they may live in sin, seeing Christ hath made satisfaction.
ANSWER. If I were to point out one under the power of the devil, going hastily to hell, I would look no further for such a man than to him that would make such a use as this of the grace of God. What, because Christ is a Saviour, thou wilt be a sinner; because his grace abounds, therefore thou wilt abound in sin! O wicked wretch, let me tell thee before I leave thee, as God's covenant with Christ for his children stands sure, immutable, and unchangeable, so also hath God taken such a course with thee, that unless he deny himself, it is impossible that thou shouldst go to heaven, dying in that condition. They tempted God, proved him, and turned his grace into lasciviousness; so he sware in his wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. No, saith God, if Christ and heaven will not satisfy them, hell must devour them. God hath more places than one in which to put sinners: if they do not like heaven, hell must be their residence; if they do not love Christ, they must dwell for ever with devils.
PERVERSION OF THE TRUTH. Let those that name the name of Christ depart from the iniquity that cleaveth to opinions. This is a sad age for that: let opinions in themselves be never so good, never so necessary, never so innocent, yet there are spirits in the world that will entail iniquity to them, and will make the vanity so inseparable from the opinion, that it is almost impossible with some to take in the opinion and leave out the iniquity that by craft and subtlety of Satan is joined thereto. Nor is this a thing new and of yesterday; it has been thus almost in all ages of the church of God, and that not only in things small and indifferent, but in things fundamental and most substantial. I need instance in none other for proof hereof, but the doctrine of faith and holiness. If faith be preached as that which is absolutely necessary to justification, then faith fantastical, and looseness and remissness in life, with some, are joined therewith. If holiness of life be preached as necessary to salvation, then faith is undervalued and set below its place, and works, as to justification with God, set up and made copartners with Christ's merits in the remission of sins. Thus iniquity joineth itself with the greatest and most substantial truths of the gospel; and it is hard to receive any good opinion whatever, but iniquity will join itself thereto.
What you say about doubtful opinions, alterable modes, rites, and circumstances in religion, I know none so wedded thereto as yourselves, For you thus argue: "Whatsoever of such are commended by the custom of the place we live in, or commanded by superiors, or made by any circumstance convenient to be done, our Christian liberty consists in this-that we have leave to do them."
So that, do but call them things indifferent, things that are the customs of the place we live in, or made by any circumstance convenient, and a man may not doubt but he hath leave to do them, let him live at Rome or Constantinople, or amidst the greatest corruption of worship and government. There are therefore, doubtless, a third sort of fundamentals, by which you can wrestle with conviction of conscience, and stifle it-by which you can suit yourself for every fashion, mode, and way of religion. Here you may hop from Presbyterianism to a prelatical mode; and if time and chance should serve you, backwards and forwards again: yea, here you can make use of several consciences, one for this way now, another for that anon; now putting out the light of this by a sophistical, delusive argument. then putting out the other by an argument that best suits the time. Yea, how oft is the candle of the wicked put out by such glorious learning as this. Nay, I doubt not but a man of your principles, were he put upon it, would not stick to count those you call gospel-positive precepts,
[Footnote: "Latitudinarian." This term is used of a "remarkable class of divines," who flourished in England about the middle and towards the close of the seventeenth century. Coleridge, in his Literary Remains, says that they were generally Platonists, and all of them admirers of Grotius. "They fell into the mistake of finding in the Greek philosophy many anticipations of the Christian faith, which in fact were but its echoes. The inference is as perilous as inevitable, namely, that even the mysteries of Christianity needed no revelation, having been previously discovered and set forth by unaided reason." They are thus characterized by Dr. Wm. R. Williams, ("Miscellanies," p. 196:) "Against infidelity and popery they did good service in the cause of truth. Their dread of enthusiasm made them frigid, and their mastery of the ancient philosophy made them profound. Their doctrines were generally Arrninian. Their notions of church power were less rigid than those of the rival party, and they were also more tolerant of difference in opinion. But in their preaching they laid the whole stress, well-nigh, of their efforts upon morals, to the neglect of doctrine; and in their theology, they attributed to human reason a strength and authority which gradually opened the way to the invasion of the gravest heresies. Of generally purer character than their opponents, they were also abler preachers. But while valuable as moral treatises, their sermons were most defective; for the peculiar doctrines and spirit of the gospel were evaporated." It cannot be doubted, that a class which included such men as Henry More, Cudworth, Tillotson, and Burnet, hardly deserves the wholesale reprobation hurled upon it by Bunyan. That some of them carried their LIBERALISM to a dangerous extreme, and that all of them allowed too great latitude of sentiment in theology, and, by their philosophical speculations, obscured the simple glory of the gospel, is indeed true; but some who bore this name were men of unquestionable piety, as well as of eminent genius and scholarship.]
It is interesting to contrast the mixture of divine truth and human speculation, and the almost melancholy doubts, exhibited in the writings of so excellent a man as Cudworth, with the strong and certain convictions, and the clear, well-defined views of Christian doctrine of John Bunyan, connected as they were in his case with the almost exclusive study of the word of God. We learn thereby not to despise learning and philosophy, but to beware of lowering the authority and of no value at all in the Christian religion; for now, even now, you do not stick to say that even the duty of going to God by Christ is one of these, and such a one as, if absolutely considered in itself, is neither good nor evil.
How, then, if God should cast you into Turkey, where Mahomet reigns as lord? it is but reckoning that it is the religion and custom of the country, and that which is authorized by the power that is there; wherefore, it is but sticking to your dictates of human nature, and remembering that coming to God by Christ is a thing of an indifferent nature in itself, and then for peace' sake and to sleep in a whole skin, you may comply and do as your superior commands. Why? because in Turkey are your first sort of fundamentals all found; there are men that have human nature and the law of morals written in their hearts; they have also the dictates thereof written within them, which teach them those you call the eternal laws of righteousness: wherefore you both would agree in your essential and immutable differences of good and evil, and differ only about these positive laws—indifferent things. Yea, and Mahomet also for the time, because by a custom it is made convenient, might be now accounted worshipful; and the circumstances that attend his worship, especially those of them that clash not with the dictates of your human nature, might also be swallowed down.
Behold you here then, good reader, a glorious Latitudinarian, that can, as to religion, turn and twist like an eel on the hook; or rather like the weathercock that stands on the steeple.
Dost thou profess the name of Christ, and dost thou pretend to be a man departing from iniquity? Then take sufficiency of divine revelation before human reason and speculation, and to acknowledge with humble gratitude the rich rewards of an earnest and prayerful study of the English Scriptures. heed thou dost not deceive thyself, by changing one bad way of sinning for another bad way of sinning. This was a trick that Israel played of old; for when God's prophets followed them hard with demands of repentance and reformation, then they would "gad about to change their ways." Jer. 2: 36. But behold, they would not change a bad way for a good, but one bad way for another; hopping as the squirrel from bough to bough, but not willing to forsake the tree. Many times men change their darling sins, as some change their servants; that which would serve for such a one this year, may not serve for the year ensuing. Hypocrisy would do awhile ago, but now debauchery. Profaneness would do when profaneness was in fashion, but now a deceitful profession. Take heed, professor, that thou dost not throw away thy old darling sin for a new one. Men's tempers alter. Youth is for pride and wantonness; middle age for cunning and craft; old age for the world and covetousness. Take heed, therefore, of deceit in this thing.
Dost thou profess the name of Christ, and dost thou pretend to be a man departing from iniquity? take heed lest thy departing from iniquity should be but for a time. Some do depart from iniquity, as persons in wrangling fits depart from one another, to wit, for a time; but when the quarrel is over, by means of some intercessor they are reconciled again. Oh, Satan is the intercessor between the soul and sin; and though the breach between these two may seem to be irreconcilable, yea, though the soul has sworn it will never more give countenance to so vile a thing as sin is, yet he can tell how to make up this difference, and to fetch them back to their vomit again, who, one would have thought, had quite escaped his sins and been gone. 2 Pet. 2: 18—22. Take heed, therefore, O professor, for there is danger of this, and the height of danger lies in it; and I think that Satan, to do this thing, makes use of those sins again to begin, this rejoinder, which he findeth most suitable to the temper and constitution of the sinner. These are, as I may call them, the master-sins, they suit, they agree with the temper of the soul. These, as the little end of the wedge, enter with ease, and so make way for those that come after, with which Satan knows he can rend the soul in pieces. Wherefore,
To help this, take heed of parleying with thy sins again, when once thou hast departed from them: sin has a smooth tongue; if thou hearken to its enchanting language, ten thousand to one but thou art entangled. Take heed, therefore, of listening to the charms wherewith sin enchanteth the soul. In this, be like the deaf adder; stop thine ear, plug it up to sin, and let it only be open to hear the words of God.
THE UNHOLY PROFESSOR.
A professor that hath not forsaken his iniquity, is like one that comes out of the pest-house, among the whole, with his plague-sores running upon him. This is the man that hath the breath of a dragon; he poisons the air round about him. This is the man that slays his children, his kinsmen, his friend, and himself. What shall I say? A man that nameth the name of Christ, and that departeth not from iniquity, to whom may he be compared? The Pharisees, for that they professed religion but walked not answerably thereto, unto what doth Christ compare them but to serpents and vipers; what does he call them but hypocrites, whited walls, painted sepulchres, fools, and blind, and tells them that they made men more the children of hell than they were before? Matt. 23. Wherefore, such a one cannot go out of the world by himself; for as he gave occasion of scandal when he was in the world, so is he the cause of the damnation of many. The apostle did use to weep when he spake of these professors, such an offence he knew they were and would be in the world. Acts 20:30; Phil. 3:18, 19.
These are the chief of the engines of Satan; with these he worketh wonders. One Balaam, one Jeroboam, one Ahab, O how many fish such bring to Satan's net. These are the tares that he strives to sow among the wheat, for he knows they are mischief to it. "Wherefore let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
Those that religiously name the name of Christ and do not depart from iniquity, how will they die; and how will they look that Man in the face, unto the profession of whose name they have entailed an unrighteous conversation; or do they think that he doth not know what they have done, or that they may take him off with a few cries and wringing of hands, when he is on the throne to do judgment against transgressors. O, it had been better they had not known, had not professed; yea, better they had never been born. And as Christ says it had been good, so Peter says it had been better, Mark 14:12; 14:22; 2 Pet. 2: 20, 2l—good they had not been born, and better they had not known and made profession of the name of Christ.
We read that the tail of the dragon, or that the dragon by his tail, did draw and cast down abundance of the stars of heaven to the earth. Rev. 12:4; Isa. 9:14,15. The prophet that speaketh lies either by opinion or practice, he is the tail, the dragon's tail, the serpentine tail of the devil. Isa. 9:14,15. And so in his order, every professor that by his iniquity draweth both himself and others down to hell, he is the tail. Nor can Satan work such exploits by any, as he can by unrighteous professors. These he useth in his hand as the giant useth his club; he, as it were, drives all before him with it. It is said of Behemoth, that "he moveth his tail like a cedar." Job 40:17. Behemoth is a type of the devil; but behold how he handleth his tail, even as if a man should swing about a cedar. This is spoken to show the hurtfulness of the tail, as it is also said in another place, Rev. 9:5,10,19. Better no professor than a wicked professor; better openly profane, than a hypocritical namer of the name of Christ; and less hurt shall such a one do to his own soul, to the poor ignorant world, to the name of Christ, and to the church of God.
There is the sin of professors; there is a profession that will stand with an unsanctified heart and life. The sin of such will overpoise the salvation of their souls, the sin-end being the heaviest end of the scale: I say, that being the heaviest end which hath sin in it, they tilt over, and so are, notwithstanding their glorious profession, drowned in perdition and destruction.
The iniquity that cleaveth to men that profess, if they cast it not away, but countenance it, will all prove nettles and briars to them; and I will assure thee, yea, thou knowest, that nettles and thorns will sting and scratch but ill-favoredly. "I went," saith Solomon, "by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down." Prov. 24:30,31.
Suppose a man were, after work all day, to be turned into a bed of nettles at night; or, after a man had been about such a business, should be rewarded with chastisements of briars and thorns; this reward for work would be but little help, relief, or comfort to him. But this is the reward of a wicked man, of a wicked professor from God: nettles and thorns are to cover over the face of his vineyard, his field, his profession, and that at the last of all; far this covering over the face of his vineyard with nettles and thorns, is to show what fruit the slovenly, slothful, careless professor will reap out of his profession when reaping-time shall come.
Nor can he whose vineyard, whose profession is covered over with these nettles and thorns of iniquity, escape being afflicted with them in his conscience; for, as they cover the face of his vineyard through his sloth now, so will they cover the face of his conscience in the day of judgment. For profession and conscience cannot be separated long: if a man then shall make profession without conscience of God's honor in his conversation, his profession and conscience will meet in the day of his visitation. Nor will he whose condition this shall be, be able to ward off the guilt and sting of a slothful and bad conversation from covering the face of his conscience, by retaining in his profession the name of Jesus Christ; for naming and professing the name of Christ will, instead of salving such a conscience, put venom, sting, and keenness into those nettles and thorns that then shall be spread over the face of such consciences. I beseech you, consider this, namely, that the man that professeth the name of Christ and yet liveth a wicked life, is the greatest enemy that God has in the world, and consequently one that God will most eminently set his face against.
THE FRUITLESS PROFESSOR.
Barren-fig-tree, thou art not licensed by thy profession, nor by the Lord of the vineyard, to bear these clusters of Gomorrah; neither shall the vineyard, nor thy being crowded among the trees there, shelter thee from the sight of the eye of God. Many make religion their cloak and Christ their stalking-horse, and by that means cover themselves and hide their own wickedness from men: but God seeth their hearts, hath his print upon the heels of their feet, and pondereth all their goings; and at last, when their iniquity is found to be hateful, he will either smite them with hardness of heart and so leave them, or awaken them to bring forth fruit. Fruit he looks for, seeks, and expects, O thou barren fig-tree.
But what, come into the presence of God to sin What, come into the presence of God to hide thy sin! Alas, man, the church is God's garden, and Christ Jesus is the great Apostle and High-priest of our profession. What, come into the house that is called by his name, into the place where his honor dwelleth, where his eyes and heart are continually—what, come there to sin, to hide thy sin, to cloak thy sin! His plants are an orchard with pleasant fruits; and every time he goeth into his garden, it is "to see the fruits of the valley," and to see if the vines flourish and if the pomegranates bud.
Yea, he came seeking fruit on this fig-tree. The church is the place of God's delight, where he ever desires to be; there he is night and day. He is there to seek for fruit, to seek for fruit of all and every tree in the garden. Wherefore assure thyself, O fruitless one, that thy ways must needs be open before the eyes of the Lord. One black sheep is soon espied, although in company with many; it is taken with the first cast of the eye; its different color still betrays it. I say, therefore, a church and a profession are not places where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves from God, that seeks for fruit: "My vineyard," saith God, "which is mine, is before me." Song 8:12; Psa. 26:8; 1 Kings, 9:3; Song 4:13-15.
Barren soul, how many showers of grace, how many dews from heaven, hast thou enjoyed! How many times have the silver streams of the city of God run gliding by thy roots, to cause thee to bring forth fruit! These showers and streams, and the drops that hang upon thy boughs, will all be accounted for; and will they not testify against thee, that thou oughtest of right to be burned? Hear and tremble, O thou barren professor!
When a man seeks for fruit on a tree, he goes round it and round it, now looking into this bough and then into that; he peeps into the inmost boughs and the lowermost boughs, if perhaps fruit may be thereon. Barren fig-tree, God will look into all thy boughs.
There is a man that hath a hundred trees in his vine yard, and at the time of the season he walketh into his vineyard to see how the trees flourish; and as he goes and views and pries and observes how they are hung with fruit, behold, he cometh to one where he findeth naught but leaves. Now he makes a stand, looks upon it again and again; he looks also here and there, above and below; and if, after all this seeking, he finds nothing but leaves thereon, then he begins to cast in his mind how he may know this tree next year, what stands next it, or how far it is off the hedge; but if there be nothing there that may be as a mark to know it by, then he takes his hook and giveth it a private mark, saying, Go thy way, fruitless fig-tree, thou hast spent this season in vain.
Yet doth he not cut it down—"I will try it another year; may be this was not a hitting season." Therefore he comes again next year to see if now it have fruit; but as he found it before, so he finds it now, barren, barren, every year barren; he looks again, but finds no fruit. Now he begins to have second thoughts. How, neither hit last year nor this! Surely the barrenness is not in the season, sure the fault is in the tree; however, I will spare it this year also, but will give it a second mark; and, it may be, he toucheth it with a hot iron, because he begins to be angry.